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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 4, 2011 9:19am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Late 73 vs Summer 74

Many good points...

'74 was also the year in which the band indulged Phil to some extent, by giving him the Phil/Ned segment (much to the dismay of many audiences!).
But even Ned was annoyed that Phil seemed to be "deconstructing" his pieces: "I had hoped that at times Phil and I would play rhythmically - but Phil really did not want to... He wasn't going to function in a rhythmic way so I could play lead. Jerry would have that happen, but not Phil... Phil had the rest of the Grateful Dead to create beauty and coherence, and to create some frustrations. So sometimes he used our sets to deconstruct the beauty & coherence, and to deconstruct his frustration. And it's impossible to build when someone else is unbuilding."

And as you say, playing to large audiences, the band rarely indulged themselves to the extent of playing entire space-sets (a few times in the fall come close, like on 9/11 or 10/16, perhaps due to Ned's influence). Though '74 is known as a year when jams could come out of practice, that just happened a few times, and you pretty much always knew you'd be back to a song within a half-hour! (It's also notable that the massive medleys of late '73 don't happen much in '74, for some reason.) I also think they could have done free jams a lot more often than they did, but perhaps felt constrained by the audience.
Sometimes I get the feeling that the jams we get onstage are just the tip of the iceberg, and the Dead did all kinds of fascinating things in rehearsal that we never heard live. For instance, the studio jams from 2/28/75 give a sense of the possibilities that the Dead decided not to explore in front of an audience!

Weir had another comment on this, about how the band sometimes attempted Miles Davis-style fusion:
"Bitches Brew was more groove oriented and a clear lightpost, so we did that stuff in rehearsal all the time. We could also pull it off on stage from time to time."
Q: Did the audience always follow?
"We would take the temperature of the audience and though nobody ever discussed it, there was an understanding...that there is only so much of this that we are going to get away with, because for the most part, the audience came to hear songs. And of course we loved to deliver songs."

And while Jerry was content to accompany Phil on his outside journeys, there's also a feeling that there's only so much space that Jerry himself would put up with within the Dead. While Weir is the most notorious for cutting off jams, I think Jerry also determined that within a Dead show, a spacy segment would always head back to a familiar tune. (And I suspect that it was mainly due to Jerry that '90s Dead shows weren't structured more like, say, Phil & Friends shows....)
A comment on another forum:
"It's not like any of Jerry's regular side projects, pre or post-hiatus, were playing anything close to the kind of "experimental" music that the Dead were...only the stuff he did with Howard Wales seems to approach the intentional chaos that the Dead regularly flirted with... His own band always played it much straighter in terms of a "conventional music aesthetic" than the Dead did at any point in their career. If the guy really wanted to play avant-garde experimental music, then it doesn't make sense that he would have chosen to front what was essentially a bar/club cover band in his spare time... [In '75] I think the Dead all understood on some level that playing music as avant-garde as Blues For Allah or Seastones wasn't going to sustain them for very long."
Jerry once called himself musically conservative - and while there are many episodes when he would just let it fly for a while (11/28/73, anyone?), being "weird" was one color on his palette, not what he wanted to do all the time.

(On the other hand, I don't really agree with you about Phil's "underused potential" as a composer. His songs within the Dead are not only infrequent, but also generally very awkward. Considering all the musical atrocities that Weir brought to the Dead, I think Phil could easily have contributed more tunes if he'd wanted to; but I don't think writing "songs" came naturally or easily to Phil!)

Ned also had typically perceptive comments on the band in '74 - he wasn't happy with how they developed as they became more successful:
"How the band members interacted in the musical realm should have been very different. But the 'family' issues increasingly spilled over into the music. I think there was a lot of interpersonal politics and frustration, related to the growth of the band, the growth of the audience, and the change in technology."
"Some of the business and management and touring family were not particularly receptive to my being there. They did not want to see the band go off into outer space and not return. Collective improvisation wasn't random, but it wasn't particularly controllable; you got where you were getting when you got there. There were people who thought those prescribed happy sequences of Grateful Dead tunes should just go on."
"We couldn't get back to the delicate spaces - and I really wanted to be able to play that kind of music... There was too much emphasis on electronic instruments and technology, rather than on collective intuition and expression... Because of where the Grateful Dead were going, and because of the frustration and dynamics within the band...and the requirements of meeting the demands of a rock & roll extrovert culture, it didn't seem that we could get to moments of gentleness and delicacy that weren't bracketed with dynamic or power contrasts... I wanted to be more cool, introspective, and Phil and Jerry were in a different place... It was harder to play minimally, delicately."
"In response to the Seastones segments - sometimes there was audience rejection, and comments by critics that were not appreciated. Jerry didn't like audience rejection. He worked very hard to be who he was, but also to be popular, quite honestly... There was a lot of criticism about weird music, strange music, which none of us really liked...and I think Jerry was not happy in acknowledging that."

(It might be worth mentioning that Ned says he played through the second set of 6/23/74, with the little pre-Ship of Fools jam and the Dark Star>Spanish jam.)

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 4, 2011 4:47pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Late 73 vs Summer 74

As expected, a great LIA post that combines insight and research! I think this topic - improvisational style, what the individual band members wanted to play, how the audience responded - is infinitely rich. One thing it's easy to forget is that the band as a whole was never, ever really "satisfied" with what they were doing. I think LIA you had a post here recently where you quoted the band's unhappiness with the series of gigs that "Two from the Vault" was part of, they thought the gigs were no fun and the music wasn't going where they wanted it - and as amazing as 1974 was, the band decided to semi-retire and as we have been discussing, there was a lot of conflict within the band family about what the music should sound like.

I understand and sympathize with all this - group improvisation often feels like a struggle, even when it sounds good. The band talked about the divergence of perspectives a lot in interviews - right after a show, different band members would have totally different opinions about whether it was good or not, and they learned to just accept that. Some people will always find the delicate quiet parts "boring" and other people will find the driving rock parts "crude and too loud, nobody was listening!"

On the subject of Phil as a composer - what you say about his songs being "very awkward" to me is the heart of the issue, because I agree that New Potato Caboose, Unbroken Chain just don't fit within the musical style of rock and roll, but I think that is a problem with rock music, not with Phil!

The type of music that Phil loved personally was a kind of music very different from anything that goes verse-chorus-bridge with repeating chord changes. For Phil, trying to write something that worked as a rock song was really speaking a foreign language, I think. I feel Phil was very underutilized as a composer because I think the elements that are awkward in songs - sudden rhythmic changes, chromatic chord progressions - are musical ideas that are completely valid.

For instance, St. Stephen owes a huge amount to Phil - the introduction and the slow "ladyfinger" section are his, and I think what makes St. Stephen as a song is the contrast. The band abandoned it and Jerry called it a "musical cop" - to me, the desire for everything to have what might be called an instinctive, natural flow is misguided.

My sense that Phil could have composed a lot more material for the band would have depended on the band being willing to do a lot more rehearsal and adopt a more precise, technical approach. I think the benefits really speak for themselves - New Potato Caboose, St. Stephen->The Eleven, the post-Eyes jam, Unbroken Chain, Slipknot! - I think these are musical high points for the band, and they all are founded on musical ideas that are outside the parameters of the folk/blues foundation of rock music.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 4, 2011 5:52pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Late 73 vs Summer 74

I would add the short-lived King Solomon's Marbles jam to that list (also, I think Jerry was more responsible for Slipknot than Phil was) - and it's also notable that Phil was the composer of Clementine back in '68.

Weir said recently, "We didn't play St Stephen for 20 years because Garcia didn't like the bridge!" (Which is both sad and funny, considering the bridge to Wharf Rat isn't that different....)
Although I think there was a bit more to it than that, Garcia's "musical-cop" quote reminds us that it is a song where the band has to be pretty tight, with several speed changes, and getting each part right in order was something that probably annoyed Garcia over time. (Certainly there are lots of Stephens even from '69-71 where he gets off-track and just flails all over the place until finding the groove again! Could be one reason they slowed the whole song down in '76...)

One important thing to notice is that the period where Phil was most involved as a composer, the first 10 years (or more specifically, '68 and '74), was also when the Dead actually rehearsed the most and really spent time working out their material.
After '75, what Phil compositions do we have? Passenger. And in live shows, that was it for 17 years!
As a result, it tended to be Weir's tunes where the band worked out their odder, more complex arrangements.

A lot of the Phil-heavy jams come from '74/75, which I think is a time when the band particularly thought it cool to work out these complicated but unified funky riffs. I'm pretty sure those end-of-Eyes jams didn't happen because Phil forced that riff on the others! Heck, it might have been Jerry's idea...
(There is also that one jazzy-riff that Phil pushes into the jams constantly in '73-'74 - the 6/24/73 Dark Star is a good example - though I can't place whether it's original, it's almost like an early version of Stronger Than Dirt.)

As you mention, the band's music from '68 on was a compromise - with no one member being completely satisfied. And whether because he wrote less material, or was stuck on bass, or perhaps was just thrilled with the others' songs, Phil seems to have given way to Jerry & Bob's musical preferences most the time. (In that 1990 interview he mentions how hard it was for him to "lead" a jam or to introduce ideas for the others to play, and just left the song selection to the singers.)
I may have sounded above like the Dead should've spent 1974 doing hour-long space jams - but I think they discovered early on that the song>jam>song approach was the most rewarding, as a mingling of genres and also as a dramatic coup on the audience, where the mood shifts and unexpected transitions are their own reward, and the overall range of the medley was wider than the individual tunes or jams.